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Tried and Tested – A Zombie short story

This is a short story I wrote for the SFX zombie story competition – the only rules were that it must feature Christmas lights as a prop and a zombie in a Santa suit, and be up to 1500 words in length.  I did not win or even feature as a runner up – having read the winner I can see why!  Very well written (although I think mine was more original in storyline), far more eloquent than mine.  Judge for yourself; here is my failed entry!

“Another crisis, Jamie?  Too many more of those and we will ALL lose!”
“Fuck off, Robin.  Not my fault.”
“Yeah, Robin, it’s the cards.  You shuffled!”
“Who asked you, dickwad?”
“Screw you, Mary-Jane!”
“ONE TIME I smoked… ONE TIME! Stop calling me that.”

“Now now, children,” Alex, the group’s natural leader by virtue of slapping them all one by one until they agreed, spoke up before things got ‘handy’. “And MJ, it was not once…”

An almighty crash from somewhere beneath their feet shut them up.  Looking at each other, they  stood and turned towards the hatch.  A sturdy hatch, they had thought; solid, dependable, lockable from their side only.  A dark thick wooden barrier between themselves and what lay below.

“MJ…”
“STOP CALLING ME THAT!”
“Okay, Max, you removed the clipboard from the reach of the subjects, right?”
“Yes I did, Alex! At least… I think I did.”

Robin, Jamie and Alex all looked at Max, united in sardonic eyebrow-raising and simultaneous sighs of resignation.

“It is possible I may not have done…”

“For fuck’s sake, Max!  What the …. never mind, one of us will have to go down there and get it.” Alex looked toward Robin and Jamie. “Obviously it’s not going to be ‘The Great British Baked Off’ here so who was next on the roster?  Check the list, Jamie.”

Max bristled as Jamie walked to the desk which contained Star
Wars/Star Trek figures (cause of many a lively debate), Buffy calendar and many, many DVDs featuring all manner of costumed characters.  Shifting aside piles of graphic novels Jamie located the laptop detailing their findings and the work rota. “S’me, apparently.  Wish me luck, I’m going in!”

“Here.” Robin tossed over the cricket bat each took with them when they visited the cellar. “Stay safe!”

“Well I was planning on having my brains eaten but since you ask so nicely…” Jamie picked up the filleting knife from the selection of weaponry they kept on a sterile steel tray beside the hatch.  Just in case. “If I’m not back in 10…”
“Yeah, yeah,” Robin, Alex and Max returned to the game even before Jamie had lifted the hatch. “Hey, do NOT take a turn till I get back!”
“Okay.” Robin turned over the first card and picked up the dice.

Sighing, Jamie turned towards the wooden steps which led from the warmth of the room they occupied towards a deepening blackness.  The hatch was lit by Christmas lights they had strung around the hole.  As Jamie moved below ground the lights swung, gusted by the breeze from the ventilation shafts dotted long the broad corridor.  Three rooms led off the corridor on either side; spare, small cells each containing one zombie.  Flicking a switch more Christmas lights flickered on, lighting the corridor down either side.  Once again Jamie breathed a sigh of relief that they had not opted for the type which flashed and sparkled in patterns as Max had suggested.  They were on a strict budget for this experiment and there was such a thing as too much.  Plus they would be nice to use as decoration once this was done.

“Which one did you leave the clipboard loose in?” Jamie shouted up to Max.
“Far left, furthest from the stairs.  I think.”
“Kerrist-on-a-bike!” Jamie once again felt that rising anger that Max inspired in so many people.  No other way around it, each cell would have to be checked.  Good job Max was mostly harmless otherwise one of these cells might gain a new occupant.

Jamie lowered the viewing hatch to the cell on the far left, reasoning that it would make sense to at least start with the room Max believed might have been the place the clipboard was left.  Scanning around the room through the chicken wire the group had modified each hatch with to avoid attacks on hair, clothing, noses and ears by the putrifying barely-by-now animated corpses that were their charges, it was clear that no clipboard was lying unattended in this room.

Jamie quickly scanned the clipboard hanging by the hatch to check Max had entered the relevant data from the latest visit, verifying it had been correctly and completely filled out.  Good, Alex would not be required to administer discipline.  Jamie let a small smile creep out.  Disciplining tended to embarrass all involved and occasionally the clean-up got a bit too sticky.  Some stains were impossible to get out.

The next two cells also proved the clipboards were both correctly hung and documented.  Crash!  Jamie’s heart leapt violently, beating at what felt like ten times the normal rate.  A flush moved rapidly up and down limbs shaking with nerves.  Not terror, just nerves.  That’s only natural.  Jamie shook the nerves away and stepped toward the cell from which the frightful scraping of metal and wood on wall had emanated.

A groan arose from the shifting, amorphous mass of what had once been human.  Now it resembled only a collection of rotting flesh, sliding and slipping south from limbs which could no longer retain cohesion.  Globs of phlegm-like substance dripped viscous organs down the red suit in which they had clothed the zombie.  A felt-made bright red Santa suit, ironically cheerful, identified this particular subject.  Others wore different fabrics; a leather biker’s outfit, a full rubber gimp suit, silk formal gown covering their sole female subject, and a nylon tracksuit which was highly flammable so the fire extinguisher was kept near that subject’s cell.  The final, naked, zombie provided the control test subject for their experiment: “How Material Affected The Decaying Process of the Undead”.

“Shit.  Alex, chuck me down the keys for cell 3.” Jamie yelled up through the hatch, dodging the hunk of clinking metal as they came flying downwards. “Watch my face, will ya?!”

“You have nothing to worry about, you too ugly for it to matter!” Wanker, Jamie thought, not for the first time.

Opening the cell Jamie peered around in the dim light to locate the clipboard, keeping both bat and knife to hand.  Santa stood, and shuffled towards the door, a flicker of light in his eyes suggesting a sense of sentience Jamie knew wasn’t actually there.  That’s what they had been told.  All subjects were dead.  They shuffled, bit, and groaned a lot but did not speak or think.  You could not kill what was already dead.  They had no life, no rights, no humanity.  The work the group was doing was vital in protecting the living and how zombies would contribute.

Jamie moved towards the clipboard, careful to face Santa at all times and noting the binds still held him out of reach of the door.  For a brief second Santa was out of eye-line as Jamie leaned to pick up the clipboard.  Swiftly a hand jerked Jamie’s head violently backwards.  Slobbery saliva dripped onto hair.  No, not saliva.  Cheeks.  Actual cheeks.  Jamie screamed in disgust and horror and turned quickly, raising the bat to bring it down hard on Santa’s head.

Blood flew, coating the walls.  Flesh ripped from the limbs, unrecognisable from rotten meat, covering Jamie, the tray, the bat.  Slashing with the knife, Santa’s torso took the full force of Jamie’s fear.  Hacking at Santa’s neck Jamie thanked every God there is and many there aren’t that Santa was a fiction and Christmas could still be the fun time of distant memory.  Eventually the head rolled from crunching bone and the grabbing, snatching, dripping and gore stopped.  Jamie panted with the exertion, fear and adrenaline still coursing.

Returning to the room above, Jamie reluctantly announced: “We lost a subject.”

“Crap.  Can we get another?  Will it ruin our results?  What will The Kraken say?” Max’s mind ran through all worst case scenarios.

“Thanks for your concern, Max.  I wasn’t bitten, don’t worry.  I’ll get a tetanus shot tomorrow.”  There was just no support in this group, no concern for welfare, Jamie thought, angrily buzzing with adrenaline from the fight.

“We’ll fail science now!  The Kraken will never pass us!” Robin panicked.  If they didn’t pass this none of them would graduate from school, let alone get good university places.

“Stop worrying!  We still have the control, there’s only three weeks left, it’ll be fine.”

They heard a voice calling down to them and they froze.

“Girls, dinner time. Wash your hands and get up here!” Alex’s mum.”You can finish your zombie experiment later”.

The girls rose and groaned as they shuffled towards the door.

END.

I Will Vote Green And You Should Too

Usually I am massively in favour of not explicitly stating on a public forum which political party I intend to vote for.  I’m more of a small ‘p’ policy person than a large ‘P’ Party person when it comes to politics.  As I get older/think about stuff more* (*delete as applicable) however, it occurs to me I want people to vote the same way as me so it might be a good idea to have a go at a large ‘P’. If you haven’t registered to vote, do so.  It doesn’t mean you WILL vote, but at least you will have the option.  You have until 20th April 2015 to register for this year’s general election.

I’m voting Green.  I have done for the last two general elections at least, and for local council and mayoral elections where we have a choice of more than one for whom we can vote in via single transferable vote (STV) in which we rank our preferred candidates 1, 2, 3 etc.   The votes are counted and if no-one gets 50% then the next level of votes are counted until all the posts are filled.  At least we do in my local borough.

This system is unlike the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system applied to general elections, through the use of which the United Kingdom is in a minority of modern democracies.  The political parties use the STV system for their party leadership contests, in case you were wondering.  I generally vote for the Green candidate and two other candidates I feel from their manifesto and platform would do the best job representing my local borough.

I do read manifestos and do my research, because you never know when a deal-breaker policy might suddenly appear.  I cite the Labour Party and its long-term betrayal of its left-wing, socialist roots to become a centralist, ‘diet Lib Dem’ party – they expelled their outspoken Socialist members in the 1980s and compounded the betrayal by announcing New Labour under Tony Blair in the 1990s.  I cite the Liberal Democrats for its inexorable move towards the right to become no longer the middle-ground party it wanted to be to become ‘diet Tory’.

The Conservatives (hereonin to be called Torys; despite my inclination to name them something far worse though not gender-specific) are moving more to the right and appear to be jostling with UKIP for attention, although of course UKIP are more upfront about their bigotry.  I shall continue my nicknaming and call UKIP ‘Tory Triple Caffeine’.  I’d call them ‘Tory extra strong’ but that is close to giving them a compliment and the idea is bringing me out in a rash.

Fuck you, ConDems.  Seriously.

* source of the foodbank graphic attributed to Nick Rhodes.

Labour and Tory successive governments have increased poverty, but the ConDems have done so in leaps and bounds; for example in the use of Food Banks which Tory MPs have stated (I paraphrase) are used by the feckless poor who choose to use them rather than work for a leaving, or who would rather spend their money on alcohol and cigarettes (obviously only the rich are allowed those despite consistent increases on VAT on both products which are based on their purchase rates).  The blogger Vox Political Online posted this graphic about the rise of the foodbank, and it paints a thousand words.

The main reason I find for choosing Green is that they are the only party to stand against maintaining the austerity measures the current ConDem coalition have put in place.  Measures which are impoverishing so many people, condemning the most vulnerable to misery and even death, and increasing the wealth of the very richest in the country, all whilst proclaiming “we are all in it together”.  There is so much more than that to my decision to vote Green.

That’s right.  They are the ONLY party to stand against the austerity measures in England .  Wales has Plaid Cymru also standing against the measures, and Scotland has the Scottish National Party.  Sorry, Northern Ireland.  You’ll have to check with your candidates in your local area.

I do have some other reasons too:

1.            They stand for long term planning and implementation on their policies – the only party which sees further than the next election.
2.            They have a clear environmental policy for the introduction cleaner energy practices with reduced costs and benefits for the country and the people, and the phasing out of fossil fuel energy and nuclear power.
3.            They will renationalise the NHS.
4.            They will enact the Robin Hood Tax on bankers bonuses, increase taxation on the wealthiest 1% and close tax avoidance loopholes.
5.            They will abolish the bedroom tax, cap rents and build half a million new homes for social housing, including renovating existing disrepair properties.
6.            They will scrap university tuition fees and bring Free Schools and Academies under local authority education control.  This means all children will have access to an equal opportunity education, but the schools will be mixed ability with teaching adaptable to the child.

Ultimately, the Green Party stands for a more equal society in which we all have a say and our voices WILL be heard, and this starts from the point of membership.  All members of the Party determine policy, not just the leadership as in other political parties.  The long term policies of the Green Party are on this link: http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/

Need more Party information, with more parties included?  How about a link to a handy summary of all the current policies available via a useful tool to determine which party may best represent you!

Or you could look up the parties in your area; the main ones for the UK countries are listed here with their website links.  Manifestos will be available in early to mid April:

Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (NI): http://allianceparty.org/
Conservative Party (E,S,W): https://www.conservatives.com/
Democratic Unionist Party (NI): http://www.mydup.com/
Green Party (E,W): https://www.greenparty.org.uk/
Labour Party (E,S,W): http://www.labour.org.uk/
Liberal Democrat Party (E,S,W): http://www.libdems.org.uk/
Plaid Cymru (W): http://www.plaid.cymru/
Scottish Green Party (S): http://www.scottishgreens.org.uk/
Scottish National Party (S): http://www.snp.org/
Sinn Féin (NI): http://www.sinnfein.ie/
Social Democrat & Labour Party (NI): http://www.sdlp.ie
UKIP (E,S,W): http://www.ukip.org/
Ulster Unionist Party (NI): http://www.uup.org/

Vote Green.

Simple choice, in my opinion.

The superbly informative blogger Another Angry Voice (read him, you will feel much better though angrier if you do) created a superb summary graphic as a handy crib sheet for the European Parliamentary Elections and I am reproducing here as it remains valid for the general election.

Pretty clear, isn’t it?

I will still be reading the manifestos and continuing my research right up until the election on Thursday 7th May, just in case something changes.  I doubt it will though.  That’s why I’m voting Green and I am lucky that I have the option to do so.

If you don’t have the option to vote Green I suggest voting for Labour as the next best option/best way to get Lib Dems/Conservative out and stop UKIP or other party of right-wingedness such as EDL getting in.  It could happen.  Both the BNP and EDL have been elected to local and general posts in the very recent past.  I’m agitating for social and political reformation anyway, no matter who wins.  Too much is wrong for one party to be able to put right.

This is my opinion.  Your vote is your choice.  As it will affect me and every other person in this country, I ask you to please choose wisely.

Thank you.

Saving the NHS

People before profit in healthcare, always.

People before profit in healthcare, always.

Today, 28 February 2015, I stood outside my local hospital, the University Hospital Lewisham (which is its official name, Lewisham Hospital to those of us who live here) for four hours.  The day was freezing, and it didn’t stop drizzling; the sky was murky, miserable and grey.  I also was freezing and damp, but I could not have been happier nor could my day been more full of colour.  It’s all thanks to the love and passion that it would seem to me at least 90% of the country has for the nearly 67-year old behemoth that is the National Healthcare System.

This system is under threat like never before.  Since 2012 one-third of new contracts has been awarded to private companies rather than the NHS*, even when those contracts are more expensive such as at Royal Stoke University Hospital .  GP surgeries have lost £943 million pounds in funding over the last three years*.  We are moving towards a private healthcare system that in real terms costs more.  The more the NHS is broken down into smaller, privatised parts, the less power it has to negotiate and the more expensive healthcare becomes.

Privatisation costs more.  There are 26 countries where per capita spending is higher than in the UK.  The UK spends £2billion per week* (yes, you read that correctly) but when you consider the United States spends twice that* for a far worse service and that the NHS recently topped the world for desired and successful healthcare provision, it becomes clear the only people who benefit from privatised healthcare are those invested in the companies who provide it, including MPs.  Not the patients, not the healthcare workers and not the community.

How lucky there is a general election coming up through which we can tell our prospective Members of Parliament how much we DON’T want privatised healthcare.

So I collected signatures for 38 Degrees and for the people I love.  I spent my Saturday doing what I feel compelled to do.  I was not alone; over 30 volunteers turned up and I know you will all be utterly shocked to find out I ‘administrated’ everyone so we managed to cover Catford, three areas in Lewisham, Deptford, Brockley and New Cross as well as the hospital in our zeal to collect signatures.  Apparently I’m a bit of an organiser.  Who knew?

I met with warmth, pleasure that I was doing the collecting, gratitude, from so many people.  I was also met with derision, anger, hostility and disdain.  I cannot understand this but smiled anyway, thanking them for their time and wishing them the best of health.  Only one person was so defeatist he did not see the point in trying and grew angry when I answered the question he asked of me: “Why try?” (I paraphrase, mostly to get rid of his swear words).  I do understand how he feels; I think we all probably recognise that feeling and in our current political and social situation probably more than ever, but I could not disagree with defeatism more.

We HAVE to fight.  We HAVE to shout.  We have to make sure that our voices are heard loudly and often.  We may lose, but we cannot know that unless we try.  It’s too important not to try.  I choose hope.  I choose optimism.  I choose to fight for the ideal whilst living in the reality, because that’s all we really can do; and it is a choice.  It’s a choice I have to practice every day, but it’s a choice I make because it is what I believe in.

I would be dead without the NHS, of that I have no doubt.  We have all, those of us born after 1967, been under the care of the NHS our whole lives, and those born before remember the fear and pain that the poorer members of our society lived under, unable to afford healthcare.  I have many health conditions which need either medication or long-term monitoring.  Thanks to the NHS, I can work full time and I can campaign to make society a fairer, more equal place.  The existence of the NHS is fundamental to creating a more equal society.

Signs, signs everywhere including on my petition.

Signs, signs everywhere including on my petition.

A medical complex based on profit rather than people is a pharmaceutical industry, not a healthcare system.

I am going to pay for today with pain and fatigue; I know my various medical delights will ensure that.  It was and will always be worth every single agonising second because it is the NHS that means I can be out there, being active and being activist.  Saving the NHS means saving me.

*all statistics from the 38 Degrees non-party affiliated campaigning group – site here: http://www.38degrees.org.uk/

Atheism In The Dawkins Age

My Sooterkin™ is currently doing an OU course entitled “Why is Religion Controversial?” He talks over his essays with me which is fascinating. However, I now have come to realise that I am an atheist. It’s not just through these conversations that I have come to define myself as such. This is after a long process of thought, reading the definitions and understandings of people such as Annie Besant (who later turned to spirituality and denied atheism), Terry Pratchett, the aforementioned Dawkins and many other atheists. I was a Christian in my youth; attending a wonderful Methodist church with a female vicar from the age of four until I was 16 and teaching Sunday School to 4-6 year olds from the age of 12, then joining sixth form friends at what I called a ‘happy clappy’ evangelical church until I was 18. By then though I was questioning everything, especially the gender hierarchy which seems inherent in Christian religious practice.

At both churches the people were kind, friendly, caring, witty and everything that one would picture a Christian to be. No fundamentalist extremism of any kind there. I loved the people, and stayed longer than my faith lasted because of them. My church was female-led, which I later found to be quite unusual. I realised that after thought and careful consideration I could not claim to have faith. However, I held back from identifying as an atheist, preferring ‘agnostic’ or my own invention ‘scippy’ (scientific-leaning hippy).

People such as Megan Fox – not that one

Famous for Transformers and arguing with directors, from what I know.

Famous for Transformers and arguing with directors, from what I know.

THIS one.  She makes Christianity seem ridiculous, ignorant and a faith for those who cannot have an open mind.  Watch this link to see how she audits science museums for her homeschooling.

This woman does not understand scientific processes at ALL!  Not a good advert for Christianity.

This woman does not understand scientific processes at ALL! Not a good advert for Christianity.

This is not my experience of Christians. In other faiths, the media concentrates on extreme acts of individualistic terror which again have nothing to do with the faith and everything to do with power and control. Patriarchy is fundamentally based on a reading of religion in which the male has power over the female – in Catholicism it is the tempting of Eve and her failure which leads to the fall from grace and the concept of original sin, for which women are punished with the pain of childbirth.

All this, however, is not to do with God or Gods, or faith. It is everything to do with maintaining an unequal hierarchy. Faith in a ‘creator’, an omniscient higher being whether benevolent or controlling, is an individuals relationship with that which gives their life meaning and a moral centre. Religious organisations can be supportive and caring and provide succour and aid to those of the faith and those of the community who do not have faith.

My beloved-awesome-favouritist-blogger-EVER™ Betty Fokker is currently writing about Atheism, from a US faith-based perspective.  It is she who has inspired me to write this blog. I agree with her that ‘Atheism’ is an umbrella term which simply means one does not believe in a deity or deities. There is a multitude of definitions within that term with which one can align oneself. The one which seems to get the most publicity is what I call the Dawkins Age of Atheism – non-theism/anti-theism.

Non-theism or anti-theism is not a passive personal belief based on a lack of empirical scientifically verifiable repeated test-based proof of a deity or deities, as is my atheism. This is an active denial and confrontation of anyone who identifies as a person of any faith, often accompanied by ridicule and derision. Read Dawkins “The God Delusion” to see how his use of language and terminology is clearly propagandist and insulting towards those of faith. It’s an extreme way of presenting a viewpoint which denies the agency of others to express personal faith however they see fit.

I do not recognise this anti-theism as anything other than another form of extremist oppressive pushing of one’s own thoughts onto another.

My atheism is based on the following:

  • No scientifically based proof of the existence of any form of deity. Like all scientific processes, this means I am open to the possibility should science one day prove there is a deity.
  • I do not subscribe to a human-centred view of the universe, which religion is. A deity implies the earth and heavens (or other interpretation) has created all of, well, creation for the use of humanity. I do not see how this is remotely possible, given humans have not been around for most of ‘creation’.
  • I do not trust the idea that a system of morality and caring should be imposed on a person from an external source and that it cannot exist without the structure of religious imposition. External imposition allows for suppression and oppression. We have a set of rules that are secular, but that are changeable according to the majority (or should be, but this is leading onto a whole other discussion…).
  • Religion (as opposed to faith) does not allow for such change. It is too rigid and set within structural hierarchical organisations which oppress in many different ways, including but not limited to gender, sexuality, race and economic status.  Like any other social and/or political system, really.
  • Faith is based on blind trust. I am not made that way. Others are.

I am an atheist. I am not an anti-theist. I am a non-theist based upon the fact there is no scientific evidence of the existence of a deity, but am open to the future possibility of proof that satisfies scientific criteria becoming available. I am not a fan of religious organisations, but on the whole those who express faith are people I can become extremely fond of.  They care, they work for others, they believe in the basic goodness of people. It can be an extremely positive personal support system. Atheism is not anti-people of faith, in my opinion.

I am not a Dawkins Atheist. He and those who shout loudest are the extremists of atheism, and like all extremism, they are the ones with the publicity. Does anyone else ever get exhausted by the screaming of extremist minorities deafening the kind, caring majority, or is it just me?

Celebrity Big Brother: The House of Inappropriate

Trigger warning throughout for descriptions of misogyny, racism, homophobia and sexual assault.

AKA inappropriate is us.

This will be everywhere for a few weeks.

It was all over the news, Facebook, TV trailers and social media so I knew something was going to be broadcast during Saturday 10th January’s episode of Celebrity Big Brother.  I have not seen any full Big Brother since series 2 and stopped watching entirely during series 3, as I have long been uncomfortable (I’m putting it mildly) with the exploitative prurience with which emotions and stresses trigger psychological and social issues in both viewer and participant. Since Jade Goody (series 3, 2002) got drunk with several male housemates who later admitted to deliberately getting her very drunk and persuading to disrobe on national TV, for which fellow housemate and ultimate winner Kate Lawler (who was present) took them to task, sexual exploitation and entitlement over female bodies has continued. Jade Goody was subject to reproval after being racist on Celebrity Big Brother in 2007 towards actor Shilpa Shetty so not even Ken Morley’s racism towards Alexander O’Neal (for which he was well-schooled by O’Neal) was any surprise to viewers, although at least he did get a formal warning for using two racist terms.  No warning for his perverted sexual and physical aggressiveness towards people through comment and actual intimidation though.  Not for calling one contestant (Cami Li, of Puerto Rican descent) half-Moroccan/half-slut.  Not for asking Calum Best if he would like to fuck Michele Visage really hard (Best handled the situation well, Visage also).  Not for walking into the shared bathroom repeatedly stating it was the “best place to see Ladies arses.” Racism kills.  Misogyny kills.  Sexism (cis and trans) kills. This was all one 24-hour period, in one episode, which came with very strong explicit warning by Channel 5. The episode reached a new nadir for the Big Brother brand with the sexual assault of Chloe Goodman by Jeremy Jackson for which he was evicted and rightly strongly reprimanded.  If anyone needs to see what rape culture and victim-blaming is, just watch that episode and see what several of the men including Jeremy Jackson had to say.  The women were wonderful.  I know how Chloe felt.  I’ve been there.  I am sure a hell of a lot of people were strongly triggered and I cannot get rid of my anger.  Morley’s reaction was to warn Chloe Goodman she shouldn’t “fuck herself” by making waves over what happened to her because Jeremy Jackson was a “powerful Jewish mogul” who could affect her career. I was also horrified to note Morley’s physical aggression particularly towards Perez Hilton.  Morley followed Hilton into the toilet during an argument and only left after Hilton repeatedly asked him to.  He waited outside for Hilton to follow then moved towards him with his right arm and hand moving crotch-ward as if to grab Hilton’s penis.  This is deeply inappropriate and sexually aggressive behaviour and is totally unacceptable.  Yet nothing at all has been said.  IT. IS. NOT. OKAY.

It is not only the UK I am talking about now.

It is not only the UK I am talking about now.

This is society believing it has an entitlement to exploit female bodies in raunch culture. This is a lack of freely given enthusiastic consent TO ANY SITUATION. This is rape culture. Jeremy Jackson has well-documented and well-known psychological issues and problems with alcohol.  He should not have been in the house.  Contestants are supposed to go through psychological profiling.  Big Brother exploits the vulnerable and provokes conflict.  It incites.  It is cruel.  It is akin to visiting Bedlam in the Victorian era, when the elite would attend the asylum by appointment to gawk, dehumanise and feel superior to those suffering. This is serious.  1 in 5 women in the UK experiences sexual assault*.  1 in 3 teenage girls*.  Approximately 485,000 women are raped or sexually assaulted every year*.  From the period 2009-2012 inclusive only 24,203 were be reported.**   Only 20,692 rapes and sexual assaults of men were reported**. Big Brother crossed the line long ago and it needs to take responsibility otherwise it needs to end.  But this is part of a much wider, endemic problem which is not new but which we need to start addressing NOW.  It’s already pandemic. * http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/Statistics2.php ** https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/an-overview-of-sexual-offending-in-england-and-wales

It ends with us.

It ends with us.

UPDATE: Ken Morley was thrown out, as reported in the media yesterday Monday 12th January 2015, apparently for further use of ‘n’ word and the ‘p’ word used to describe the children of those denigrated with the ‘n’ word. Not for his misogyny, homophobia and threatening behaviour.

Leelah Alcorn: My Promise To You

Your death is truly tragic, yet even in that final act you gave a gift to the world.  You asked that your death mean something.  I promise that in my words and my actions, I will do my absolute best to make this happen.

You chose to end your life because you were murdered; by the lack of love and understanding from the two people who should have been your bedrock; by the crushing of your spirit as it sought to become the beautiful butterfly you would be; by the unthinking mass of people who by their very inaction and ignorance perpetuate the wall of silence you were forced to live behind; by the knowledge that your life, however true and honest you are, would be hard and painful and marginalised; by humanity’s inability to recognise the first five letters of that word are all that defines the physical person.

Parker Malloy wrote her pledge to you, as a transgender-identifying sister.  I write this pledge to you as a cisgender-identifying sister and I hope with all that I am that others will choose to make their pledge too.

I promise to try, at all times:

* To never to stop fighting for acceptance of all those who identify as transgender and struggle to fit within the narrow confines of our current limited society.
* To never to cease my work to be an ally: to listen, learn, understand, follow, and never to let my privilege blind me.
* To shout loudly and often and never shut up about the truth.
* To be a person whom my brothers and sisters can come to in peace and safety, for whatever safe harbour they may need.
* To make your name a byword for hope.
* To be what I am needed to be and to be open to being wrong.

As long as one single person on this planet feels that they are not good enough to live on it, I will keep fighting to eliminate the prejudices and fears that make them feel that way.

There is good in the world.  There is hope.  The news is filled with horror and tragedy because that binds us together in caring and wishing the same will not happen to us and those we love and co-exist with.

But that horror and tragedy is not the reality for most of us.  Most of us are simply blind to the macro world.  Most of us don’t see the suffering right within our societies simply because it is not us suffering.  That is what privilege bestows.  I hope that all cisgender people reading this will make a resolution, a pledge, to you.

You asked, in your final gift to us, that “ My death needs to mean something”.  With love to you Leelah, and with hope for the future for all of us, this I promise to you.  Your death does and will mean something.

Tina X

Bright star, taken too soon.

Taken from the twitter feed of a friend, supporter and ally @LeelahAlcorn

Some websites/groups:
Worldwide – http://www.wipeouttransphobia.com/
http://planettransgender.com/
http://tgni.tghosting.net/
http://www.nuttycats.com/
http://lauras-playground.com/

United States of America – http://www.translifeline.org/
United Kingdom – http://gendertrust.org.uk/directory/support-organisations
New Zealand – http://www.agender.org.nz/
Canada – http://www.gendermosaic.com/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Transgender-Support-World-Wide/210713025610380?sk=timeline

 

Ferguson & Florida – $4 the price of a black person’s life

Don't Shoot - words heard by witnesses but not by the police.

Don’t Shoot – words heard by witnesses but not by the police.

My friend Kate said this, in reaction to the decision of the Grand Jury not to indict Darren Wilson of Ferguson PD in the shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown Junior: “$4. If as the media / police who are trying to slander Michael Brown Junior are telling the truth and he did shoplift, then that’s the value of a young black male life in rural USofA.”

Apparently Darren Wilson, a trained police officer, chose not to use or wear a taser because it was “uncomfortable”* and therefore only had potentially lethal force available to him to deal with any situation. He felt threatened, stating “He looked up at me and had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked. He comes back towards me again with his hands up”.*

Even in his own statement to the Grand Jury, Darren Wilson states Michael Brown Junior’s hands were up. The six foot four inches tall, 200 pound police officer was terrified of an unarmed teenager. So when Michael Brown Junior ran away, what did this terrified officer do? Get out of his car and shoot at him, aiming for the head because that is “all I could see”* of him.

Does anyone else think the testimony he gave was profoundly racially prejudiced? Describing a tall heavily built black man as a demon, that harks back to the good ole days of lynch mobs and overt media racism. Now black people are covertly demonised and we are trained to fear and suspect black teenagers; the boys are ‘gangsters’, the girls are ‘sluts’. This is the culture in which all black people are taught to be obsequious, be gentle, be open, assume that every white-identified (because racial heritage is not always obvious) person will be afraid and may hurt you. To ‘yas masser’ to the privileged, just in case.

I am deliberately using strong and inflammatory language because I am more than livid about this. I don’t want to be white and live in this world. This world of beating down the black man, of beating up the black woman. Marissa Andrews, forced to plea bargain and serve jail time to avoid being imprisoned for up to 60 years; her crime was to defend herself against her violent abusive husband by firing a warning shot away from any person**.  She and all others who may try to defend themselves have been told “don’t shoot”. It makes me sick, and I have had enough.

Why were the testimonies of several witnesses, all of which independently corroborated the fact that Michael Brown Junior had his hands up and was saying “don’t shoot”, seen as less than that of one police man who was trying to avoid indictment and potential jail time, and all that would entail? Could it have anything to do with the fact they were ALL black?

Ferguson has suffered enough and I hope the people there can find some sort of peace. I doubt it though. Not now. There was never any expectation of justice, and that is perhaps the most telling point of all. Justice does not exist for the black people of the United States. It seems that electing a black president has simply made the racism more extreme, and the fear of the privileged intensified. Never have the white privileged elite fought so hard to maintain control. Remind me again what colour the 1% are?  What colour the justice department is? What colour the judges, lawyers, bankers, powerful, elite are?

I don’t live in the United States. I live in the United Kingdom, where our government has recently stated that it wants to arm our police force. We had a riot in August 2011 when armed police responded to a perceived threat of violence from a man who was unarmed, killing him. Guess what colour he was? So we cannot ever assume that Ferguson wouldn’t happen here, it would and it has.

This is a global matter. The United States sees itself as the world leader and in this case it is the world leader in racist violence and oppression. We must all therefore show we do not support this in any way, shape or form.

$4 is the value of a young male black life, even less for a young black woman. If you as a white person aren’t angry, if you aren’t ready to rise up and fight the privilege you have been gifted with for no reason other than the colour of your skin, then you are part of the problem. Don’t be that person.

*http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/11/25/why-darren-wilson-said-he-killed-michael-brown/

**http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/11/24/1347177/-Battered-Victim-Marissa-Alexander-Accepts-Plea-Deal-DA-Corey-and-Florida-Injustice-Win-Again

The fight for justice will go on.

Rest in peace, Michael Brown.

More to Consent than “Yes”

Informed, enthusiastic consent.

Handy little chart – cut out and keep!

I don’t just mean consent for sexual activity, but that is the main topic through which consent is understood (or not, as seems to be the case) so it will be mentioned a lot.

It is a really great positive step forward that there is new focus on pushing the idea of ‘yes means yes’ rather than the old ‘no means no’. It refocuses onto the person receiving the consent rather than the person giving consent having to communicate explicitly in the terms the receiver may understand and ensures mutual understanding is fundamental. The 2014 Bill currently under consideration in California, USA, is fantastic news as Jessica Valenti explained in the Guardian online in September 2014.

However I don’t think this refocusing onto ‘affirmative consent’ goes far enough, and recent posts about the Canadian radio presenter Jian Ghomeshi and his (alleged, for legal reasons) assault of 8 women (at the date of posting) as well as the myriad plethora of other stories going back as far as I can remember clearly show this. Yes a simple word, short and to the point, one syllable, one clear meaning. Yes means yes, it should be obvious. But more than just that one word may be required for unambiguous clearly understood consent.

There is more to communication than the spoken word. There is body language to take into account; tone, situation and the context within which consent is sought. Is there any sort of external pressure which might stop a person being able to say ‘no’ or being able to express their true intent and/or meaning? A marriage proposal in the full glare of one’s relatives, for example. Or if talking about sex, within the context of an abusive relationship or when one’s potential partner is very intoxicated for example. Both these restrict one’s capacity to give consent, so when one says yes it may not mean yes.

To stop rape, you need to stop people raping.  Not stop women drinking.

Or in other words, 2 out of 3 are committed when the woman is sober.

Why is this so important? What is wrong with just emphasising yes? Well, as this NHS poster from 2007 (which is still up in some NHS facilities) clearly shows we live in still a rape culture of victim-blaming and objective sexualisation of women which relies on advising women on how to prevent becoming a victim of rape (never preventative advice for men, who are also victimised), rather than a culture of perpetrator-blaming and prevention of anyone becoming a rapist. If you don’t believe me, I assume you missed the whole #yesallwomen campaign or are afraid you may have committed some form of sexual assault and are in several levels of denial (and I am applying this to all genders). A ‘Yes’ might have been obtained, but is it truly meant? In any situation, how can you be sure?

I have blogged about consent before in a specifically sexual context and summarise here –

INFORMED CONSENT:

  • Means having all the information one feels is necessary to oneself in order to give informed consent.  Ask questions and expect answers.
  • Means giving all the information one feels is necessary to oneself in order to receive informed consent. Expect questions and give answers.
  • Means honest open communication.
  • Means understanding that consent must be updated; a yes for one activity is not a yes for all.
  • Means knowing anyone under any form of duress (e.g. emotional or physically abusive relationship) directly related to the situation cannot give informed consent.
  • Means knowing anyone very intoxicated on whatever substance they cannot give informed consent, especially (and I can’t believe I have to write this, but Steubenville etc) if they are unconscious.
  • Means knowing anyone who is very intoxicated may also not be able to understand whether they have received informed consent or not; be wary of this and don’t become an abuser/rapist. If you feel intoxicated or in any way unsure of your judgement, do not have sex or do not proceed with whatever activity requires consent.
  • Means never assuming consent has been given.
  • Means understanding yes may not mean yes and no definitely means no.
  • Means you are allowed to say no and you do not have to give reasons.
  • Means erring on the side of caution – if you are not 100% positive then you should assume consent has not been given.
  • Means respecting a person’s autonomy – no-one has a right to sex or to consent. It doesn’t matter how much you spent on them or what your expectations may be. There is no such thing as entitlement.

No universal moral rule applies in all situations with regard to the giving of consent. For example the power disparity in a relationship such as boss/employee does not necessarily preclude the possibility of informed consent but because the power imbalance exists informed consent is explicitly required. The person in the position of power always has the more responsibility with regard to obtaining and updating informed consent.

So, while I agree with and whole-heartedly support the affirmative consent campaigns, it does not go far enough for me. We need to have conversations about informed consent, ensure our children understand it and have the confidence and knowledge to be able to give and receive informed consent, in all things. Classes in sexual consent are also a good idea, and are happening already.

Ultimately, informed consent is the ability to say “yes”, to say “no”, and to say “maybe, but I want to know more first before I can decide” and to know that that decision will be respected and adhered to. We MUST ensure that it is.

Black Supremacy ?

Group hug!

We are a multiracial humanity, with different experiences, oppressions and privileges.

I recently had an interesting discussion with a friend about a link on my Facebook page to a blog site called www.blacksupremacylovenunity.wordpress.com; specifically I linked to their article on Sarah Baartman (check it out, you should know her real story). The discussion was brief because I needed to write this blog to get my thoughts in order and my opinion fully in context.

It was the first two words of the title of the website which caused controversy, and for which my friend stated they were disappointed and surprised in me for posting the link. I do understand this reaction and I went through several articles on the site and the ‘about’ section to get a feel of what it was about before posting the link. I trust and respect the person who originally posted the link which I shared but I am still careful about sites I link from.

In this instance, I think that it would be a mistake to equate the idea of ‘black supremacy’ with that of ‘white supremacy’ without context and nuance.  Linguistically and ideologically they are both racist ideals, but context and nuance changes the reality. In fact, I believe the collation is an act of white privilege (linked article is long but detailed and nuanced in explaining this concept; for a briefer summary, try the most well-known description “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh).

We have never had in the Western world a single instance in which people of colour have been in any way superior, or supreme, to white people. Ever. We live in societies which are racist, which denigrate those of colour, in which institutional racism suppresses and tokenises, and in which the sexuality is subjectified, then eroticised and exoticised, and even fetishised.

We are forced into having a ‘Black History Month’ as if the histories are separate and the history of the Western first world countries are not in any way affected by or a part of those of global history, and as if the histories are entirely white. Even when the histories involve people of non-white countries and other cultures (as most of UK history actually does given the amount of times we have been invaded, traded, enslaved and empire-created), it is from the perspective of the white/male patriarchal ruling class. Our history is one of all cultures and colours intermingling as far back as prehistory but you wouldn’t think it.

When respected historians such as David Starkey* in 2011 can advocate for a return to the history teaching remniscent of the early 20th century, consisting of the ruling white middle and upper class and featuring token females, and when parties such as UKIP and groups such as Britain First are on the rise with their colourised policies and hatemongering racism/islamophobia, it is the duty of every white-identifying person to check their privilege at all times and to listen to voices such as the website to which I linked and hear, really hear, what they are saying.

There is also ample historical evidence to show that the more extreme one is in fighting for rights, equality and recognition, the more likely one is to achieve a lesser compromise which is a step forward in the fight. I’m thinking of the suffrage movement which had to become violent in response to public and state-sanctioned violence in opposition to the right to vote, the Civil Rights movement in the United States which faced the same violence (and still does) and every single country which kicked the Empire created by Britain out to become self-governing.

The site also contains many other articles covering myriad topics. It celebrates Black culture and achievements and discusses issues specific to the experiences of Black people including the racism within those defined as and/or identifying as Black. It is an incredible resource, and yes, there are sections which one could say advocate a separatism and/or a supremacy.  The subtitle is controversial and provocative, stating “The Black Man and Women are the true Gods of the Planet” – not something I agree with, partly as an atheist and partly as I am against any form of separatism.  However, my interpretation is that the wide variety of articles discussing all manner of subjects give voice to the depth and strength of justifiable anger at the systemic racism and silent acquiescence of so many people of all colours.  Furthermore, as a white-identified person the website is not aimed at me and I am certainly not in agreement with many of the articles posted, but that is not what this blog is about (and my lack of agreement is probably obvious to anyone who read others of my blog posts in comparison!).

You cannot compare ‘white supremacy’ with ‘black supremacy’ in any other way but linguistically within the confines of the Western first world. White supremacy is what we already have, white dominance which gifts white privilege to those who both identify as and are identified as (whether they choose to be or not) white. Black supremacy can be (from what I have gleaned from debate and discussion and exploration) a statement of the achievements of Black people in which they, as individuals/groups/cultures/racial identities, have shown a supremacy in a particular occupation or have achieved in a specific way, and supremacy is defined in a very narrow way.

There will, of course, be those people arguing for a system of separatism and Black supremacy to be created directly comparable to white supremacy, in the same way we still have white groups arguing to maintain white supremacy. Note those ideals though; creation of as opposed to maintenance of.  Linguistically they may be the same.  In context and reality of the Western first world they are not.

I strongly plead for discussion and debate, not assumption. I don’t believe in the supremacy of any colour/race over another, but I don’t believe that is what the site is about. I might prefer a gentler title but that is my white privilege talking, my knee-jerk kick back reaction, and I personally am not going to be ruled by that.

* I deliberately linked to a Daily Mail online site for this, as it is renowned as being a site which would generally reek of white, and all other forms of, privilege.

I leave with my favourite image of late, just because.

Left – 1971 Gloria Steinem & Dorothy Pitman Hughes for Esquire Magazine, photographer Dan Wynn

Right – Gloria Steinem & Dorothy Pitman Hughes for 2014 Women of Vision project, photographer Dan Bagan

Equality - are we nearly there yet?

Women of strength, power, passion and compassion.

Gs&DP-H 2014 women of vision pic by Dan Bagan

Undiminished and so very, very inspiring.

Mannequin Madness

The 1980s ruined me. I now cannot think, hear or see the word ‘mannequin’ without automatically picturing Kim Cattrall (whom I adore) and Andrew McCarthy (possibly my least favourite of the Brat Pack stud muffins – I’m putting links in for anyone under the age of 35 who is now hopelessly confused at these references) in the eponymous film of 1987, and having this song from the TV series The Kids From Fame (1982 series) as an earworm. Click on the link, I dare you…

Dr Who would have no trouble defeating these plastic monsters.

Dr Who would have no trouble defeating these plastic monsters.

this is not an attainable ideal

Normal for very few women.

However, I was pleased to be able to resort to such humour when I went shopping last weekend and upon immediately stepping out of the lift from the car-park into Marks & Spencer was confronted by these in the lingerie department.

This is Marks & Spencer, a store renowned for good quality, fairly expensive (to a person on a median average wage, ridiculously expensive to the vast majority of people) clothing for women of all sizes. Look as hard as I could, it seemed ALL the mannequins in M&S are now shaped like this. Thigh gap, extremely small waist and slight bony protrusions in hip and collarbone included. This represents a body shape only natural to an extremely small (pun unintentional) proportion of the population, and this was the first thing ALL shoppers are confronted with on stepping out of the lift.

The first thing you see when you enter the shop is a female form with the clothes hanging off, even at this small size they are too loose.

The first thing you see when you enter the shop is a female form with the clothes hanging off, even at this small size they are too loose.

I then found myself noticing mannequins in all shops. The next one which irked me greatly was in BHS – another store which has a good solid reputations.  These mannequins are located at the store entrance, directly next to the Wallis collection (which proudly and publicly caters for the larger lady as well as those deemed ‘normal’ and ‘slim’).

As you can see, pretty much the same size. Those clothes are just hanging off the mannequins. All the mannequins looked no more than a UK size 6. All the mannequins in the shops were this size. Mannequins are 2 sizes smaller than they used to be.

Not only does this give people absolutely no clue as to what the clothes might actually look like on, it is further pressure on women to reach an ideal of body shape which is simply not possible and most definitely not healthy for the vast majority of women. This constant pressure on women is also a great way to divide-and-conquer in maintaining the patriarchy; after all, if women are too busy hating each other and being jealous, and hating themselves for failing to comply with unattainable goals, they will not combine to overthrow. Great for beauty/fashion industry profit too, but I digress from my original point.

I’m angry about this. I don’t care if it costs more to have larger mannequins or whatever reason shops may give for using them, I want to see a variety of sizes and shapes INCLUDING disabled mannequins. I want normal to be inclusive, not exclusive. I want encouragement towards health, not body shape/size.  I’d like them to be in a variety of skin shades too, if that’s not too much to ask.

You may think that with all that is going on in the world, this is a minor problem. I don’t think so. We are surrounded, constantly, by a culture of raunch culture and rape culture, which idealises the female form and then blames it for whatever befalls the women contained within it. One’s body is the very basis of one’s identity, upon which all else hangs. Each change for the better is a step forward, a step towards being free from patriarchy, free from inequality, free from misogyny. I don’t think that this is a minor problem at all.

Now I’m off to revisit the The Kids from Fame. I want to meet my 10-year-old self in nostalgia when I would have given anything to be Doris Schwartz, before all this shit became real…

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